Their service won’t be in vain!
Congress is set to honor a WWII battalion of all Black women with congressional gold medals, The Root Reports.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, a group of all Black women who served in World War II, is finally set to receive their just due after going virtually unknown throughout history. A bill to award the 855 members who served just passed in the Senate and is currently awaiting approval. Of the women who served, only seven are still alive to receive the honor.
“I just wish there were more people to, if it comes through, there were more people to celebrate it,” Maj. Fannie Griffin McClendon, one of the battalion members, said.
The women known as the Six Triple Eight were sent to WWII tasked with processing millions of pieces of undelivered mail. When they first arrived in England, they had to beware of German U-boats and scramble to get away from a rocket. Eventually, they made it to the rat-infested aircraft hangers where they were stationed. The backlog of mail was enormous, with oodles of soldiers complaining of lost letters and care packages. The battalion quickly developed the motto, “No Mail, Low Morale.”
The Six Triple Eight worked around the clock, processing nearly 65,000 pieces of mail during each of the daily three shifts. The women created a system for identifying and delivering mail, using locator cards with names and unit numbers to ensure accuracy. Sometimes, mail would come with just a common name or even a nickname, but they did their best to figure it out.
“There was an awful lot of mail…They expected we were gonna be there about two or three months trying to get it straightened out. Well, I think in about a month, in a month and a half, we had it all straightened out and going in the right direction,” McClendon said.
During their time, they cleared a backlog of about 17 million pieces of mail, twice as fast as projected. The battalion then went over to serve in France before returning home. Despite their efforts, the women faced a tremendous amount of racism. They dealt with housing, mess halls, and recreation facilities, which were all segregated by race and sex, forcing them to set up their operations independent of everyone else. Unit commander Maj. Charity Adams was even threatened by a general who said he would give her command to a white officer, to which she replied, “Over my dead body, sir.”
Retired Army Col. Edna Cummings, who has been among those fighting for Congress to honor the Six Triple Eight, spoke about the significance of the women’s service to the country.
“I think that the 6888th, the command inherently knew that their presence overseas meant more than clearing that mail backlog. They were representing opportunity for their sisters at arms back in the United States who were having a hard time dealing with the racism and sexism within the ranks,” Cummings said.
The efforts of the 6888th were never recognized, but the women continued to make history. Elizabeth Barker Johnson returned home and used her G.I. Bill to pursue her education, becoming the first woman to attend Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. McClendon also made history outside of the battalion, joining the AirForce after it was integrated and becoming the first woman to command an all-male squadron with the Strategic Air Command.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire helped co-sponsor the Senate Bill and spoke candidly about her motivations, saying, “These women were trailblazers, and it is past time that we officially recognize them for their incredible contribution to our troops during World War II.”
Thank you all for your service! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Matt York/Associated Press